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U.S. Department of Energy Awards $2.04 Million to Rensselaer Nuclear Engineering Program

July 13, 2010

More than $2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy will strengthen nuclear research and education, and help develop the next generation of nuclear technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The grants will support two research projects within the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, & Nuclear Engineering, fund improvements in laboratory space, and provide scholarships in nuclear engineering.

 “This is good news for our nuclear program, and further evidence that we’re at the leading edge of nuclear research and education,” said Timothy Wei, professor and head of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, & Nuclear Engineering. “The nuclear program has been growing both in terms of student numbers, faculty strength, and research over the last five years.”

The two research projects – with total funding of nearly $1.3 million – focus on improving the nuclear fuel cycle and developing the next generation of nuclear reactors.

The Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $810,141 for a project, led by Professor Yaron Danon, to develop economical high-efficiency solid-state neutron detectors.

Neutron detectors detect radiation, Wei said, and may be used in a variety of applications, including detection of nuclear devices and safeguarding nuclear waste containment.

Currently, expensive and complex thermal neutron detectors filled with rare He-3 – a form of helium – are used for these applications. The project will develop a new and inexpensive neutron detector using techniques similar to those associated with computer chip manufacture. 

The DOE also awarded $475,005 for a project – led by Professor Michael Podowski – to develop and validate multidimensional models of supercritical CO-2 energy conversion systems for nuclear power reactors.

“Essentially what they’re looking at are performance and safety issues associated with next-generation reactor designs,” Wei said. “These are design and feasibility studies necessary for revolutionary new nuclear reactor design concepts.”

In awarding the research funding, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said “we are taking action to restart the nuclear industry as part of a broad approach to cut carbon pollution and create new clean energy jobs. These projects will help us develop the nuclear technologies of the future and move our domestic nuclear industry forward.”

Through the Nuclear Energy University Program, Rensselaer also will receive scholarship and fellowship funding of $450,000 over three years, and $300,000 toward new research and development and teaching laboratory experiments.

Chu said the funds are part of efforts to build a clean energy economy and create new clean energy jobs.

 “To ensure American leadership in the global nuclear energy industry, we need a skilled workforce for years to come,” Chu said. “This investment will give our students the support and resources they need to advance nuclear energy and keep America at the forefront of the nuclear industry.”

For more information, view the Department of Energy press releases on University-led Nuclear Research and Development Projects and on the Nuclear Energy University Program grant

Contact: Mary L. Martialay
Phone: (518) 276-2146
E-mail: martim12@rpi.edu